Group: Illegal N.O. rentals leave customers little recourse

Published: Nov. 20, 2013 at 3:11 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 27, 2013 at 3:40 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS - For Carl Orend, what was supposed to be a dream weekend in New Orleans recently took a horrible turn when he arrived at the Mid-City home he rented through a short-term rental website.

"The hygiene of the place was very bad. There was trash everywhere," he said. "The place was very dirty. The back door didn't lock properly, didn't even close properly."

Orend and his wife, who were visiting from the Austin area, couldn't get a refund from the property owner.

They then spent hours trying to find a new place to crash.

"We lost around $450 for the rental and then, in addition, we had to spend around $1,000 for accommodation because that's all we could find," Orend said.

Problem is, a group known as the French Quarter Short-Term Rental Committee says there's really nothing the couple can do about it.

"There is no recourse," said Brian Furness, who co-chairs the committee. "Who do you call?"

Furness said because the short-term rentals in the city are illegal, those who run into problems are mostly on their own.

Furness and his group have been fighting to get the city to enforce its own laws against vacation rentals, but he said it's slow-going.

The group has identified more than 560 illegal short-term rentals operating across the city on a daily basis, but the majority of them are found in the French Quarter.

Performing a quick search of numerous vacation rental websites, you'll find the listings are plentiful.

Furness, who owns a legal French Quarter bed and breakfast, said businesses like his that play by the rules, miss out on big bucks at the hands of those who don't.

"We figure that it's costing (legal businesses) at least $13 million a year, and the city would be taking home a $1.3 million in taxes," Furness said.

However, the concerns stretch well beyond the hotel/motel industry, and with the holiday season coming up, more people will likely seek vacation rentals. If customers run into problems, the situation may taint their perception of the city.

"This kind of thing builds up. New Orleans depends on tourism and anything that damages the brand is going to have a negative impact," Furness said.

Orend said he and his wife made the best of a bad situation and fell in love with the city, although things could have gone further south - quickly, he said.

"It could easily - if we had not been lucky enough to find a hotel room - have ruined our entire stay and soured our view of the city forever," Orend said.

According to city ordinance, it's illegal to rent a property for fewer than 60 days in the French Quarter and 30 days in the rest of the city.

A spokesman said the city investigates when it receives complaints about a property, and sends violation letters when applicable.